Chairman of the British Transport Police Federation
Nigel posts regular blog comments of issues of importance to policing and the BTPF in particular.
Chairman's BlogColleagues, welcome to my March blog which should provide you with an update on what the National Executive is involved with on your behalf.
This month has been particularly busy with various meetings and of course our National Annual Conference, which was held in Manchester last week. During this event, we showcased the excellent work of all in BTP; we proudly represented some of the finest officers in policing and demonstrated why it is so important to have a specialist force policing a very testing and dangerous environment.
I hope those who attended our conference enjoyed it and found it to be productive and informative in terms of giving an insight into what the BTP Federation does.
Last month we reported that on Tuesday 20 February there was an extraordinary meeting of the JPB, which resulted in a paper proposing that the integration of BTP Scotland into Police Scotland was paused. This paper was delivered to Ministers followed by a report to the Justice Committee. Over the next 6 months there will be a detailed re-planning exercise by the JPB, which will determine the revised timeframe for integration. This pause is very much welcomed by the Federation and those officers that we represent.
Clearly, there are significant challenges to overcome; the MTT has identified several areas of work associated with higher than acceptable levels of risk, those being:
- The current lack of resources, skills and data;
- The continuing failure to agree key asset transfers;
- The lack of progress on the development of Railway Policing Agreements;
- The inadequacy of Police Scotland ICT systems and processes
- The continued lack of clarity over transferring BTP officers terms and conditions; and
- Concerns over the rising cost of integration and its impact on both Police Scotland and
- BTPA's transformation programmes.
It was pleasing to hear both the JPB and Scottish Government acknowledging that the engagement with stakeholders and staff has not been good enough great previously and their intention is to properly engage with all. At this point I would invite you to remember that word "intention".
So, 4 weeks later what do we have?
Firstly, we had to almost implore the Scottish Government to share the pensions proposal that had been sent to the pensions trustees on 18 January 2018. It took nearly 50 days from the day it was sent to the trustees, and the efforts of certain members of the DfT, before the Scottish Government circulated the proposal amongst all staff associations and our members. Why? Remember the "intention" is to improve engagement.
Now having viewed the proposal, we see that the language used in it does not support the so-called "Triple Lock Guarantee" - the guarantee that is remarked upon at every opportunity by the Scottish Government when asked about pay, pensions and T&Cs.
You can imagine our dissatisfaction when we read the document and saw Scottish Government acknowledge that within their proposal of a segregated 40/60 shared cost scheme - and with an aging membership - there will be circumstances whereby members of such a scheme will face increasing contributions. They state it is their "intention" to protect the members from such an effect but what they don't say is that they will guarantee the members are protected.
There are no guarantees in the pensions proposal, nor do we see the Scottish Government or the Scottish Police Authority committing to covering the cost of any potential liabilities. I am sure many of you will ask the cost of the liabilities for a segregated shared cost scheme with such a small number of serving members, but no-one can give a precise figure. A valuation today could differ to the valuation on the day of transfer; there are so many variables.
However, from the JPB Partners Meeting we attended on Monday 19 March, in company with colleagues from TSSA, we understand the Scottish Government has valued the current potential cost of liabilities that between £45 million and £100 million. I suspect this is a very modest valuation and who, if anyone, would cover that cost if it all went wrong.
We have also received the news that a new Joint Chair has been appointed to the Joint Programme Board from the Scottish Government. We don't know why, at such a crucial stage of the integration project, it would be necessary to replace the Chairperson. This individual has been the architect of devolved policing and the one person who has worked on the integration of BTP in Scotland from the outset. He has now gone, presumably taking his accumulated knowledge with him.
In the spirit of engagement, we invited the Joint Chairs to our annual conference so they could see some of the excellent work of BTP officers and hopefully answer some of the concerns of our members and listen to suggestions around alternatives to full integration. This was the perfect opportunity to fulfil the "intention" of the JPB to improve engagement and be inclusive of our members. Forty BTP officers attended the conference, so what a better way to demonstrate those intentions. Disappointingly, their diaries were full.
Returning to the JPB Partners Meeting, we enquired why we hadn't still received copies of the JPB meeting minutes from the last three meetings (November, January and February). They are now available to view here. Several other points of note came from the meeting:
Firstly, the first in a series of staff engagement events is being planned for the end of April. Given that the original intention was to hold the event in early March, we would not want to see the date slip further.
Secondly, the Scottish Police Federation representative stated they don't welcome an "as is" transfer and it would be very difficult for them as an Association to provide representation to officers who are not regulated. This was not only very worrying but very interesting bearing in mind the reassurances that the Transport Minister gave to the Convener of the Justice Committee, stating the SPF would give representation as per SPF Regulations.
Lastly, full integration is still full steam ahead. The draft orders for the new legislation are being prepared and the plans remain the same, albeit with an as-yet-unknown timeframe. We were informed that Ministers were not considering any alternatives to full integration during this pause (and this is noted in the newly-released minutes of the February JPB meeting). We were advised that we should write to Minsters directly if we felt they should look at alternatives, so we have done exactly that. In this letter we have asked why alternative approaches, such as a commissioned service model, are not being considered and await a response.
It truly saddens me to report this news but I think it important that those that we represent rightly understand the difficulties we face. What we have seen in recent weeks, in terms of activity and the sharing of information, has been shambolic.
Regrettably, the people who are caught up in the middle of this horrendous situation are the hard working, dedicated and professional police officers and staff of BTP Scotland, who cannot plan nor understand their futures because of the continued level of uncertainty. I would like to reiterate what I said at our conference; we don't believe there is accountability coming from the Scottish Government or the JPB and we ask again that there is an independent body assigned to reviewing this entire process. This would prove accountability to the public and the rail network we serve.
As reported last month the rosters in C and B Division are being changed. This is a welcome move by the force and fully supported by the Federation. We're still receiving calls of dissatisfaction but as I stated last month there is no simple solution to rosters. They are and always will be subjective, but what was in operation could not continue and this decision is for the benefit of the majority.
We were experiencing a workforce suffering from fatigue and the evidence we had suggested that the situation could not be ignored and the force needed to take action, which they have. Prior to the announcement, there were some officers who decided to operate outside of the Federation guidance and the working time agreement, unfortunately those officers now cannot rely on certain parts of the WTA or regulations, because they surrendered their protection.
Save for those officers who opted out, if there are any alterations that do not adhere to the WTA then please don't hesitate to contact your local federation representative and they or the Federation Executive can address those breaches.
National Negotiating Meeting
I am pleased to report that we have finally agreed our Machinery of Negotiation, the agreement that allows the Federation to function and which endorses the third full time post within the Executive. The Working Time Agreement is now signed off and once badged and signed by the Chief, will be published on our website and on the Force Intranet.
What we still haven't resolved is the decisions on overnight allowance and outstanding claims. From a Federation perspective this has been nothing short of scandalous. The application of the allowance can only be described as piecemeal. The Federation has never let up on reminding this force of its obligations when it comes to officer rights and entitlements. It feels that every time a major event or incident arises this Federation must once more don its tin hat and go into battle for the members for something regulations clearly provides for.
The General Secretary, Darren Townsend, recently took part in a central conference call with HR to try and sort the remaining historical claims and to finalise how this force is going to manage future claims. Darren is confident that many of the older claims will be sorted quite quickly and hopes to report back by the end of April on this.
The force has tasked T/Supt Oram to define what 'routine' means in the eyes of the BTP. This report will be concluded in the next two weeks and should assist when it comes to the functions of certain departments and what 'routine enquiries' means. As part of the same piece of work HR are looking at job specifications across the force to determine if regular overnight stops are part of certain roles. If they are found to be a regular occurrence the force will look to write them into the core responsibilities of that role.
As a Federation we will monitor these pieces of work closely to make sure our members are not suffering a detriment.
In addition, we are still challenging the new proposed "Limited Duties" policy, which most Home Office forces are working with. To reiterate what we said last month, we believe our policy is draconian and there may be a breach of the Equality Act. The Force has agreed to seek independent advice and revisit the areas of concern that we have raised.
Regarding our regulations and your terms and conditions, work continues to produce one document for all. At our annual conference a motion was proposed by Steve Lewis to encourage the Authority to adopt all the Police Regulations. We are having an independent body review the current position and the policy provided to date. In addition, there was a further motion, again proposed by Steve Lewis, to suspend the Job-Related Fitness test. There are concerns that officers are facing unnecessary Unsatisfactory Performance Procedure or ill health dismissal due to a misunderstanding of the recommendation of the JRFT, which some forces no longer have unless you are an officer in a specialist role. Further updates will follow on these two items.
On 8 March Darren Townsend and I visited the BTP Authority and met Mr Ron Barclay-Smith, the newly appointed Chair. We provided Mr Barclay-Smith with an oversight of issues the Federation is facing, and we invited him to our annual National Conference, which he accepted without hesitation. Mr Barclay-Smith has a military background and spoke a lot about people and teamwork, which was very reassuring. We look forward to working with him in the future. I genuinely believe he will be a great ambassador for BTP and he will without doubt listen to your concerns and work with us to alleviate any particular problems.
Later that evening, Mark Marshallsay and I joined many others including the Chief Constable and the Female Police Association to celebrate International Women's Day. We debated fair promotion process, the JRFT and staff retention. We were very pleased to support the FPA and IWD we hope to work more closely with them in support of all our female colleagues.
Then last week we had our annual National Conference in Manchester and the theme for conference was pride; being proud to be BTP officers. The conference began with a Management Board meeting followed by our Awards of Excellence where we paid recognition to some truly remarkable. The ceremony aims to acknowledge and recognise some of the acts of valour and the unwavering commitment of officer who, day in and day out, deliver an excellent service to the travelling public and the infrastructure we police.
As I stated at the awards and in my conference speech, 2017 was such an extraordinary year and one which is written in BTP history. It was a great privilege for the Federation to host the awards and pay recognition to a small number of our brave men and women. If you haven't already seen the films, please visit our Facebook page and watch those that were are able to share publicly (three can't be posted at present for legal reasons). I am sure you will agree that without doubt everyone in BTP can stand proud. On behalf of all in the Federation I thank all our award winners for taking part and all those officers who took the time to nominate their colleagues.
Following on from the awards we had our conference where I gave my speech which was met with a passionate and supportive response from the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Andy McDonald MP.
The Chief Constable and CEO of the BTPA joined us for a Q&A session, after which we had a passionate and inspiration talk from guest speaker, recently retired Chief Superintendent John Sutherland. He spoke about his career in the Metropolitan Police and the impact of policing on his mental wellbeing. The final input was from Dr Les Graham of Durham University, who spoke about the results of the recent staff survey.
As I have described previously there are some positives from the survey but there are some uncomfortable truths for the Chief and his team. All three of our guests brought different elements of policing to our conference and on behalf of all in the Federation I thank them for helping making this year's conference such a productive and interesting conference.
We then ended the day with a closed session for our reps, which featured healthy debate on regulations, JRFT and voluntary positions within the Federation. I am pleased to announce that Steve Lewis and Debi Rouse are the newly elected National Deputy Chairs, I look forward to working with both.
Finally, to my amazement my own 15-year-old daughter announced she had applied for work experience with BTP; 'shock, horror' I thought. She has had a fantastic week working with the Crime Prevention Team in Liverpool, the Pennines West Dog section and with the Crime Scene Examiners in Manchester. A big thank you to you all firstly for looking after her and secondly for showing her exactly what BTP is about and how good we are as a police force. It's great to know young people are still considering a career in policing and that the force encourages this via its work experience programme.
Quote of the month: "If you are working on something that you really care about, you don't have to be pushed. The vision pulls you."